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Researchers Pilot World-first Programme For Autistic Kids

A new programme to identify and support children showing signs of autism is being piloted by researchers from the Autism Clinic at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Through the programme, 300 health and education professionals have been trained to identify the early signs of autism in children aged under five and refer them to the Autism Clinic for immediate support, says clinic lead Dr Hannah Waddington.

Free support will be provided over 20 weeks to 60 children and their families in the Wellington region.

“We know it’s really difficult for families to find help. A child may be diagnosed as autistic but there’s often no assistance available for ages. By offering support as soon as signs of autism are observed, we hope to reduce a lot of stress and improve outcomes for the whole whānau,” Dr Waddington says.

Children referred to the Autism Clinic and their families will be given the opportunity to take part in Raupī te Raupō, a support service developed by the clinic specifically for children in Aotearoa.

“We developed Raupī te Raupō with input from an autistic advisory group and a Māori advisory group. It’s been designed with them to meet their needs, the first time this type of co-design approach has been used in autism research in New Zealand.”

Raupī te Raupō provides children and their families with tailored support that is delivered by 'coaches’ through weekly sessions. Coaches talk with the family about strategies that might be helpful for the child. There are also practical sessions where whānau and the coach play and interact with the child.

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Families referred to Raupī te Raupō through the pilot will start receiving support at the beginning of May.

The health and education professionals making these referrals have been trained in using the Monitoring of Social Attention, Interaction and Communication (MoSAIC) tool.

“MoSAIC was developed by Dr Josephine Barbaro from Australia’s La Trobe University and is recognised internationally as the best tool for identifying autistic children,” Dr Waddington says.

The programme pilot will be evaluated later this year to assess the effects of providing this type of early support for children and their families.

© Scoop Media

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